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California: A History (Modern Library Chronicles) Paperback – March 13, 2007

ISBN-13: 978-0812977530 ISBN-10: 081297753X Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library Chronicles (Book 23)
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; Reprint edition (March 13, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 081297753X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812977530
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,042 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In 2004, California had a population of 36 million and the fifth-largest economy in the world. Starr, USC professor and former California state librarian, has justification for referring to his state as "this nation state, this world commonwealth." His distillation of his previously written seven-volume series, California and the American Dream, is a single-volume tour de force that is superbly researched and beautifully written. This straight, chronological history opens with a fascinating survey of the geology, climate, flora, and fauna of the region, and then the author provides interesting insights into the achievements and failings of Spanish and Mexican governance, while he pays particular attention to the sad fate of California's indigenous peoples. Most of the book covers the period of American supremacy, and Starr's treatment of topics such as the gold rush, the growth of high-tech industries, and the emergence of California as the center of the motion-picture industry is handled with great aplomb. For both general readers and those with a particular interest in regional history, this is an informative and enjoyable reading experience. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

“Kevin Starr is one of California’s greatest historians, and California: A History is an invaluable contribution to our state's record and lore.”
Maria Shriver, First Lady of California

“From Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo to Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Donner Party to the 1992 Los Angeles riots, Kevin Starr captures the fullness of California history in one sweeping and masterful narrative. Starr is not only the Golden State’s greatest living chronicler, he is also one of its greatest treasures.”
Gregory Rodríguez, senior fellow, New America Foundation, and contributing editor, Los Angeles Times

“I am honored to recommend California: A History, this perfect distillation of Kevin Starr’s life’s work. He is California’s most devoted lover and most passionate advocate, our patron saint. He transforms an already fascinating tale and imbues it with ineffable magic and grace.”
Carolyn See, author of Making a Literary Life

“There is no more knowledgeable or insightful historian of the California dream than Kevin Starr.”
Richard Rodríguez


“A magisterially authoritative survey of the movements–geological, political, scientific, artistic, and sociological–that have shaped California into the unique state it is today. This engrossing warts-and-all saga is told with a verve and panache that sweep the reader along.”
Michael York


From the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Why did California stop at San Diego and not include Baja California?
Peter J. Brennan
I thoroughly enjoyed this book as a review of California history long forgotten since elementary school.
Eileen Dowell
It is a very easy read but full of interesting facts encompassing the periods of 1510-2005.
Kevina M. Gallagher

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By James V. Sylvester on June 26, 2007
Format: Paperback
This book just blazes along. It's a quick .. too quick .. a read. While the task of covering 250 years (or so) of California in 344 (small) pages is an impossible task, the result is a text that is superficial and that would be appropriate for a summary tourist guide.

I think Professor Starr knocked this one out in his sleep. His other works are much more valuable.

I would pass right by this volume and proceed directly to "California; An Interpretive History" by Rawls/Bean (now in its 8th Edition). For good reason, Rawls/Bean is the standard introductory survey to California history.
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58 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Peter J. Brennan on May 27, 2009
Format: Paperback
Starr needs a better editor. This book is too full of trivial names and details. He pays way too much attention to writers, who weren't responsible for making the state what it is nowadays. He pays lip service to business leaders and politicians who built this state. He doesn't explore what shaped famous Californians like Disney, Earl Warren, or Ronald Reagan. He neglects why the San Joaquin Delta became one of world's most productive farmlands nor does he explain well how California built its famous freeways. Why did Los Angeles develop into one of world's busiest ports rather than Bay Area, Seattle or Portland? Why did California stop at San Diego and not include Baja California? The differences between the two areas highlight what these two countries are capable of. He even has a chapter on Governor Schwenegger's performance, which is current politics, not history. And the writing is bad. I'm still looking for a better book on state's history.
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30 of 38 people found the following review helpful By John Matlock on November 15, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Just the name California brings up images in our minds. They may be of the big Hollywood sign, the Watts riots, the gigantic redwood trees, the pacific ocean, the images run on and on. In this book, Mr. Starr gives a history beginnning with the first mention of the name in a 1510 book where it was stated that California was an island.

From there he has written perhaps the best single volume history of the state yet written. He has pictured California with all its greatness, and with its problems. He talks about the beauty, the climate, the life that California provides. He also mentions the soaring housing prices, grid-locked freeways, poor state government and more. It's a fair look at the state as it exists today and as it was in the past.

Mr. Starr is a professor at USC and for ten years was the state librarian. He has written many time of California, this is the distillation of a lifetime of work.
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27 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Palisades Reader on May 18, 2006
Format: Hardcover
As a student of California history, I was looking forward to Starr's condensed account of the state's history. After all, he has written many books on various eras of California and there was every reason to rejoice over a shorter book to learn more. However, I was very disappointed in this error-prone, often dry and shallow account of our history. While it is a fast read and some of the facts were interesting (like how California got its name), Starr tends to write some of the more uninteresting history of his beloved and favored San Francisco and glosses over some of the more important history of Southern California, one of the largest metropolises on the planet. While I haven't read all of the books on California history, I would not recommend this one as the defining one for those who want to learn more about the Golden state.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By S. Jacobson on August 18, 2009
Format: Paperback
Some of the reviewers here seem have an obvious political or regional axe to grind, and I would read their reviews accordingly. I found this to be an informative and highly entertaining overview of California history. I thought the author generally made good calls as to what was important and/or entertaining enough to include. Guess what? A three hundred page overview won't be exhaustive. But if you're interested in the subject, I suspect this book will whet your appetite for more.
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22 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Crocker on November 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Kevin Starr has spent the last quarter of a century chronicling the history of the State of California in 7 thick and comprehensive volumes. I must confess that sadly I've read none of them. When I found out that Starr would be doing a history of California for the Modern Library Chronicles I was overjoyed and California: A History did not disappoint. Starr starts at the point that Europeans first viewed California and takes the reader on a whirlwind history that ends in today's California with the rule of the Governator. Chapters are a combination of chronological and topical. I wish I could give the book perfect marks for accuracy, but I found mistakes in the Chapter 10 [O Brave New World!] which is the one chapter I know enough about to evaluate in detail. On page 258, Starr gets the telescopes on Mt. Wilson fouled up [the "60-inch reflector telescope" is most likely the Snow Solar Telescope (which George Hale did already have and moved to Mt. Wilson), the "observatory with a 60-inch reflector lens" is the 60-inch telescope built in 1908 with a 60-inch MIRROR, and the "100-inch lens" is the 100-inch MIRROR of the most famous telescope on Mt. Wilson, the Hooker Telescope]. This mix up in details makes me wonder about what else the proof readers missed, but aside from that I enjoyed the book immensely.
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful By D. C. Palter on September 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
A history of California, from the founding years through to Gov. Schwarzenegger, was always an ambitious undertaking, one fraught with difficulties, starting with how to approach it. A large, diverse state with a complex history, there are only a few options: compile an encyclopedia, focus on a few defining events, or create lists. Unfortunately, Starr takes the last approach, keeping the book to a short 350 pages, but filling those pages with one or two sentences on every event and every major figure in California history.

Unfortunately, while comprehensive, the disjointed style and lack of detail on any topic make for painful reading. Nearly every paragraph deserves its own book or at least its own chapter. The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 rates 3 paragraphs.

Here's one example taken at semi-random: "The previous evening, a drunken miner had tried to break into Josefa's cabin, where she was living with her common-law husband, also a Mexican. Upbraided by Josefa the next day for his conduce, the miner called her a whore. Enraged, she stabbed him to death."

This was the most interesting passage on the page I opened at random, but it certainly needs to be its own story. As a novel or movie, this event could succeed in illustrating life during that period in California history, but as half a paragraph, it's just more event in a long list of things that happened.

When Starr turns to arts and literature, the effect is even worse, pages packed with names of artists and writers. Starr seemed to feel the need to include every writer who ever even visited San Francisco.

Further, parentheticals in nearly every sentence and a reliance on passive voice make the book feel as if it was dictated by a PBS narrator.
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